After the past week from hell that the entire world collectively endured, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than a new episode of Survivor. At the same time, though, I was also dreading it. I knew a double Tribal Council meant the likelihood of losing at least one more Old School legend would increase. Our Old School massacre would likely continue some way or another, and I predicted Parvati to be our most likely victim. Her vote out this episode felt inevitable, especially with how the swap shook out for her.
I certainly didn’t predict Sandra—the Queen herself!—selling her idol to Denise and promptly getting voted out while comfortably in the majority alliance of her swap tribe. Going into this season, we knew a lot of large legacies were at stake, and Sandra’s was by far the largest. Her vote out this season doesn’t diminish her previous two wins, but the Queen misplayed in a massive way this episode, and it might be hard for her to live this one down. And boy, that was a hell of a way for the Old School massacre to continue.
This episode saw the full bargaining potential of Fire Tokens come to fruition, with Wendell and Sandra both making an offer of safety in exchange for power in the form of that precious currency. Although I was skeptical of the twist when I first heard about it, Fire Tokens have proven to be a compelling addition to the game because they’re so closely tied to the players’ individual social and strategic decisions. There’s a good deal of freedom built into the mechanics of the twist. Do you spend them on food? Hoard them for a big advantage somewhere down the line? Or use them as a bargaining chip to benefit your social and strategic game? Fire Tokens are powerful to begin with, but they’re made even more powerful depending on how individual players choose to wield them.
DING DONG, THE ROBFATHER IS DEAD
We open at Yara, where the mood is celebratory now that Boston Rob and his “Buddy System on steroids” are gone. Ben narrates most of this sequence, highlighting his close relationship with Sophie and Sarah, as well as his continued desire to play a drastically different game from his previous outing. Adam, though, is less excited. He’s noticed how close Ben, Sophie, and Sarah seem to be, which leaves him on the outs and ultimately spells bad news for his game.
With Yara getting this scene in an already jam-packed episode with the Edge of Extinction, an Immunity Challenge, and two Tribals (and not going to either of those Tribals), it’s very likely we’ll see this storyline return next week. Things aren’t looking good for Adam, unless he can convince Sophie and Sarah that Ben is more dangerous than him in the long run.
[LADY GAGA VOICE] I’M ON THE EDGE
Over on EOE, the world’s saddest scavenger hunt is back! Another Fire Token is up for grabs, and this time the task requires looking under a bunch of stones, which is a lot harder than it sounds because there are a lot of stones on EOE. Tyson figures out that the trick to the challenge has something to do with the tide, and he manages to snag the advantage before anyone can see him.
This week’s advantage is an Idol Nullifier (ugh, that thing again?), which he sells to Parvati, who quickly buys it. An Idol Nullifier was basically the last thing Parvati needed in this episode, though. Almost any other advantage—a Steal A Vote, Safety Without Power, an Idol—could’ve saved her game. But alas, the EOE gods work in mysterious ways. Paying one Fire Token for an advantage as powerful as the Idol Nullifier is a no-brainer, but it, unfortunately, won’t do much to help Parvati get her out of her current predicament on Sele.
Tyson immediately spends his Fire Token on a massive jar of peanut butter, which means we’re treated to what feels like an eternity of peanut butter ASMR as he eats it. Spending a Fire Token on peanut butter is a very on-brand Tyson moment, and it’s not necessarily a bad strategy, either. On EOE, you essentially have three options: buy an idol in case you get back into the game, buy an advantage in the challenge to increase your odds of winning your way into the game, or buy food to keep up your strength and increase your odds of winning your way back in the game. Tyson chose food for strength, while Natalie seems to be hoarding her tokens for that re-entry challenge advantage.
As of right now, Tyson and Natalie seem to be our likely EOE returnees from both a game perspective (both are strong in challenges and good at finding Fire Tokens on EOE) and an edit perspective (both have storylines that support them getting back into the game at one point or another). It’s hard to imagine anyone else making it back into the game at this point.
STAB FROM THE FRONT AND THE BACK
Yara wins the Immunity Challenge, sending Sele and Dakal both to back-to-back Tribal Councils. At Sele, Parvati knows she’s in trouble. Nick bemoans voting out his “Survivor crush” but recognizes his best play is to stay strong with the Dakal boys. Meanwhile, Parvati and Michele pinpoint Nick as a potential weak link, but Michele isn’t hopeful. She approaches Wendell with a plan to write his name down so she can get Parvati’s Fire Tokens after her elimination. Wendell shuts her down immediately. “Michele wants to have her cake and eat it too,” Wendell says in a confessional.
Wendell then makes a play to get Parvati’s Fire Tokens for himself, offering to betray Nick or Yul for two Fire Tokens. Parvati doesn’t want to give them to him before the vote, and getting them after the vote isn’t good enough for Wendell, so the negotiation quickly falls apart.
The Ghost Island champ was painted pretty negatively here, coming across as a little cocky and unsympathetic. But Wendell also has the numbers. He has an easy ride to the merge on this tribe as long as he sticks with the Dakal boys, so any offer from Parvati would have to be a damn good one. Parvati is the Old School underdog that viewers might be rooting for. Still, Wendell made an objectively smart decision here, even if he was perhaps a little too blunt in conversations with Michele and Parvati.
Parvati makes one last case to save her life by detailing her conversation with Wendell to Nick. Nick understandably feels betrayed by Wendell offering to vote him or Yul out for two Fire Tokens and toys with the idea of betraying Wendell.
At Tribal, Wendell comes out swinging and makes it clear he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. Parvati brings up Wendell’s previous Fire Token offer, and Wendell responds that the offer is still valid if Parvati wants it to be. The negotiation at Tribal ends just like it ended on the beach: in a deadlock. Wendell won’t say a name, and neither will Parvati. In the end, Michele stays loyal to Parvati and votes Wendell just as the three Dakal boys stay loyal to each other and send Parvati home. She bequeaths her Fire Tokens to Michele, who is now a Fire Token billionaire like Natalie.
Parvati’s elimination seemed inevitable once the Old School massacre began, and she got dealt a bad swap, but it was fun to see her go down swinging in this episode, even if it wasn’t enough to turn the tide.
PLAY IT HUMBLY
At Dakal, Tony gets up to more spy shack shenanigans in a hilarious sequence where absolutely everyone wonders where the hell he is. Sandra insists that any conversations happen as far away from the well as possible, so it doesn’t look like Tony ends up getting any useful information. This was the first time this season where we saw the “old” Tony really shine through. He made it through the episode, but he can’t afford too many more of these moments before his alliance members become wary of his volatility, as we saw start to happen with Kim here.
Dakal’s decision seems like an easy vote for either Jeremy or Denise. Denise decides to “play it humbly” and make it clear that she needs old Dakal more than they need her, while Jeremy makes the appeal to keep him around as a shield for the other big targets like Tony.
But then Sandra does the unthinkable and sells her idol—which expires at her next Tribal—to Denise, who, unbeknownst to Sandra, already has an idol. The deal is one Fire Token now, and one Fire Token after Tribal. Sandra gives Denise a choice between voting out Jeremy and voting out Tony. As long as it isn’t her or Kim, she’s fine with it.
At Tribal, Denise plays both of her idol and Sandra’s idol—one for her and one for Jeremy—in a move reminiscent of Parvati playing J.T.’s idol and her own idol at the Heroes vs. Villains merge Tribal. Sandra, not wanting her alliance to know that she’s working behind their backs, voted for Denise as if she was unaware she had the idol. Four Denise votes do not count, and all that’s left is Denise’s vote: Sandra. The Queen gathers her things and bequeaths her lone Fire Token to Yul, now voted out on Day 16 for the second time. And this time, she really only has herself to blame.
With this absolutely brutal move, Denise has shown that she came here to play. Even if she didn’t actually need to play both idols, it was a smart move to both prove her loyalty to her old Sele tribemate and ensure that a stray Jeremy vote wouldn’t tie her Sandra vote and send Jeremy home on a revote. It was a flashy move, to be sure, and playing two idols might end up putting a huge target on her back. How good of a move it ends up being long-term will depend a lot on how close it brings Jeremy to her in the days to come.
When looking at a particular “bad move” on Survivor, I always try to take what we see with a huge grain of salt. What we’re seeing is a highly condensed version of events, edited to fit a particular, cohesive narrative that may or may not accurately reflect reality. This is true of Survivor in general, of course: take Wendell’s edit in this very episode, for example. He was painted very negatively, and it’s clear he rubbed Parvati and Michele the wrong way. But it’s entirely possible that Wendell is being portrayed as a villain not necessarily because it’s reflective of what happened on the island, but rather because there’s a long-term conflict (likely with Michele) that needs to play out throughout the season. For that reason, he needed to be built up more negatively as a villain.
It’s for this reason I find it important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when talking about “bad moves,” whether that be playing an idol wrong, not playing an idol at all, trusting the wrong person, or writing a letter and giving an idol to someone on the opposing tribe who you’ve never met before. There’s a lot of conversations we don’t see, a lot of information exchanged that we’re never aware of. It’s easy to judge something as an objectively bad move when you’re sitting at home watching a highly edited and condensed television program. It’s a lot harder to know if something’s a bad move when you’re starving on an island and relying only on the massive amounts of (sometimes conflicting) information you’ve been given.
All that taken into consideration, Sandra’s decision to sell her idol to Denise was baffling no matter how you look at it. It’s true that we, the audience, know something Sandra doesn’t: Denise already has an idol. But even still, Sandra was in a comfortable majority position right before Tribal Council. She had an idol that expired after her next Tribal, and all she had to do was play it on herself to guarantee safety. Sometimes it’s worth taking a big risk for a big reward. But Sandra took a massive, massive risk (giving up guaranteed safety and essentially leaving her fate in Denise’s hands) for, what, a couple Fire Tokens and Denise’s trust down the line? Sandra, like me, clearly didn’t expect kindly sex therapist Denise to play dirty and backstab her, or else she probably wouldn’t have taken that risk.
Sandra’s gamble didn’t work out, but hell did it make for great TV. As a huge Parvati fan and long-time admirer of the Queen, losing them both back-to-back was tragic, but it was also extremely fitting when taking into account their now decade-long rivalry since Heroes Vs. Villains. It came up a lot in the pre-season press for Winners at War, and even if they didn’t end up taking each other out, a back-to-back vote out was the next best thing in terms of wrapping up that storyline.
And with that, Yul becomes the last Old Schooler standing.
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